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Bishop to Hold Off on Charges

L.A. Episcopal leader says he'll wait until next month before deciding whether to act against a cleric working with breakaway parishes.

September 28, 2004|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

SPOKANE, Wash. — Los Angeles Episcopal Bishop J. Jon Bruno said Monday he would not immediately file ecclesiastical charges against a retired Texas bishop who is helping three Southern California parishes in their efforts to leave the Episcopal Church in a dispute over homosexuality and biblical interpretation.

Bruno had been considering filing formal church charges against the Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, the retired bishop of Texas, for ministering to two of three breakaway parishes in the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese without Bruno's permission.

But after a closed door meeting here of the 2.3-million-member denomination's House of Bishops, Bruno said he had decided to wait until mid-October before deciding whether to press charges against Benitez.

The date is important because Oct. 18 is when an international panel is scheduled to make public its recommendations on the future status of the Episcopal Church in the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal church is the U.S. arm of Anglicanism.

That panel, known as the Lambeth Commission, was appointed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams after the U.S. Episcopal Church had approved the consecration of an openly gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire and had given local bishops the option of allowing same-sex blessings in their dioceses. Those decisions provoked an outcry from parts of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Speculation about the Lambeth Commission's recommendations is wide-ranging. Some church observers think that they could lead to a relatively mild reprimand of the Episcopal Church or, more seriously, a demotion to observer status in the worldwide, 77-million-member Anglican Communion.

Some conservatives have called for more drastic action: expelling the Episcopal Church from the communion unless it repents and returns to what conservatives consider to be traditional teaching on homosexuality and scriptural truth.

Last month, the three parishes -- All Saints Church in Long Beach, St. James Church in Newport Beach and St. David's Church in North Hollywood -- broke from the Episcopal Church and placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the Church in the Anglican Province of Uganda.

That church, in turn, appointed Benitez as its official representative.

After Monday's discussions at the House of Bishops' meeting, Bruno said he decided to wait for the Lambeth Commission before possibly seeking a formal rebuke against Benitez. Monday's meeting was not open to the press or public.

Actually, Bruno would not need the house's approval. Bruno said that under church canon law, he would need only to present the charges to the nation's presiding bishop and primate, the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, who would forward them to a review committee to determine whether the charges had merit and should be pursued.

Bruno said he would not be "intimidated or held hostage" by the actions of the three Southern California breakaway parishes.

He said he did not rule out the possibility that he would press charges against Benitez later.

Bruno also said that he would welcome back the three breakaway parishes.

"My arms are open," Bruno said.

"I would welcome them back instantaneously and I'm sure that we could work out a negotiated settlement of some kind and avoid all of this legal mess," Bruno said, referring to a lawsuit he has brought against the three parishes over their properties.

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